Focaccia, Simplified

For years I told myself I was not a baker. Then I got a KitchenAid stand mixer for a present and convinced myself to give it another go. I still don’t love the ultra technical types of baking, I’m more of a big picture gal and don’t delight in the finer details. I have found some baked goods that lend themselves to my particular brand of maverick cooking (AKA hard to fuck it up while improvising). This is one of them. Whenever I am making pasta, a big pot of soup or featuring a salad for dinner, I usually trot this one out. It is fast and pretty unfussy. Impresses the hell out of people too. Plus, fresh bread is a phenomenal olfactory and gustatory experience no one should deny themselves.

Chop up some fresh or dried herbs that sound good for focaccia. I often snip some rosemary from my yard and mix it with chopped garlic and dried thyme from my spice cabinet. Dried basil, fennel even oregano would be tasty. Put that in a glass measuring cup and add about ½ cup of olive oil. Microwave in 30 second increments on high for 3-4 cycles, stir in between. Let it sit for flavors to mingle and cool down. You could do this part in a pan too, if you are so inclined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (if using, highly recommend) with paddle attachment dissolve 2 ¼ tsps. yeast in 1 cup warm water with a dash (like ½ tsp or so) of something sweet to feed the yeast (sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup). Stir it and let it do its thing while you prep the flour mix. In a big bowl, measure out 2.5 cups of flour and mix in 1 tsp sea salt. To the yeast mix add about ½ of the oil/herb mixture (put the rest aside) and half of the flour. Mix together and let it sit for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the flour and stir/knead it in the mixer or with your hands for a minute or two. Oil up the flour bowl and turn the dough into that for rising. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour. I put mine in my oven with the light on. Sometimes I turn the oven on to broil for a few seconds before loading the dough, just to take the chill away, but not too hot or the yeast will croak.

Once risen, prep a ½ sheet size rimmed pan with a tablespoon or 2 of the oil/herb mixture, greasing up the whole bottom and sides. Be generous. Pour the dough out into the prepared pan and stretch it out and pat it down to fill the space. Its gonna be really soft. Use your fingers to dimple the whole surface of the dough. Like you are playing Beethoven on the dough. Then drizzle with the rest of the oil/herb mixture and sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt. Let it rise uncovered on the countertop for 20-30 minutes while the oven heats up to 450 degrees.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is nice and golden brown. Best eaten the same day, but we rarely have any leftover to worry about anyway!

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are comfort food extraordinaire. When I was growing up, we only had them on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were considered special, or maybe just too much work. I am fortunate enough to own a KitchenAid stand mixer, so I don’t even bat an eye about making them, even on a Tuesday.

I put “potatoes” in parentheses on purpose (OOO love that alliteration right there!) because I rarely make my mashers with potatoes solo. Some proportion of cauliflower, turnip or sweet potato is usually part of the mix with the regular old russets or golds.

It’s a very basic recipe, cubed up potatoes and whatever else boiled in salty water. Sometimes I peel them, sometimes I don’t. Depends on my mood. Cooked til tender then drained and tossed into the mixer bowl. Butter (vegan or real), milk of choice (unsweetened/unflavoured – I’ve made THAT mistake), salt and pepper, sometimes a spoonful of horseradish or greek yogurt, sour cream. Put on the whip attachment and watch the magic happen in moments.

Taste them, correct the seasonings and add other goodies that delight you. I’ve been known to add green onions, Green peas, wasabi plant stems, Oregon Coast Wasabi seasoned salt, even blue cheese chunklets when I had some left in the fridge begging for use. These potatoes are a canvas, begging you to create your very own masterpiece.

Fuck Sherry Vinegar!

My vegetarian kids fell in love with patatas bravas after two summer trips to Barcelona. The land of many tapas, most unrecognizable to your average American kid. Even young ‘uns with a mom who loves to cook and feed them different stuff. But ahoy! In the sea of weird foods stood something approachable and vaguely familiar to them – patatas bravas. Fried potatoes with a creamy, smoky tomato sauce.

I got a wild hair last week to make some when I saw a jar of patatas bravas sauce while cruising through Cost Plus with my favorite sidekick. Yum, but $5 for a teeny jar?! I sprung for it anyway since we were soon off to the coast for a mini vacation and I was planning on spending some serious time in the kitchen cooking up some love for my loves.

They turned out great. The kids were in heaven. We had fun reminiscing about Spain and planning our next trip. But $5 a jar seemed silly to continue, so I committed myself to making my own.

Anyone who knows me, understands that I see recipes as merely a suggestion. I often read several and then cobble together my own thing. I keep a pretty well-stocked kitchen and I love condiments, but there were a couple of things I would need to buy in order to make my version of this dish so that it would still ring the same bells. Smoked Parpika – that sounds interesting and I can already think of a couple of other things I might do with that. Tomato paste – an excuse to buy one of those cute tubes, yay! I can’t stand those silly little cans. You use one or two tablespoons out of it and then what are you supposed to do with the rest?! I usually put the remainder in a baggie, stick it in the freezer and promptly forget about it along with all of the other previously canned items that met the same fate. Soon I have a collection of orphaned mystery items lurking in there until I either toss them all or make a soup out of them if I am feeling particularly thrifty and/or creative. But what’s this? Sherry vinegar?! WTF. I currently have 5 types of vinegar in my house, do I really need another one? No senor. Time to improvise!

Patatas Bravas, Minus Stupid Sherry Vinegar

See my rant about sherry vinegar for the backstory to this recipe.

Cube up some potatoes, skinned or not. Leftover baked potatoes work well here if and reduce the cooking time. Season them. Plain salt and pepper, some cayenne if you like them extra spicy. Spice blends work well here too; I’ve used Old Bay and a yummy one from the Saucy Minx. Fry them in oil in a pan on the stove or toss in oil and spread them out on a baking sheet to cook in the oven. I suppose an air fryer might work here too, I don’t have one so can’t test it. I usually go the oven route and use parchment paper to prevent sticking, because I’m lazy and don’t like standing over a hot, greasy pan. They should be crispy.

While the taters cook, fry up some onion and garlic in olive oil til soft. Add paprika to the onions and garlic, cook til fragrant. Add canned tomatoes, some tomato paste and vinegar (I use balsamic most of the time). Cook down until thick, takes about 10 minutes. Cool a bit. Toss into a blender, blend until smooth. Taste and correct seasoning. I like to add a couple of dashes of hot sauce because I like things spicy! Add some mayo to the sauce to make it slightly creamy. I used Veganaise because it’s awesome.

Serve taters with sauce on top or on the side for dipping (my kids are dippers). I might add a jalapeno next time, maybe some grilled/roasted peppers, even a little chipotle might work here. Any leftover sauce is tasty on burgers, baked potatoes, any roasted veg. Probably make a good all-purpose sandwich spread too. So, make a big batch!

Tuscan Kale and White Bean Pasta

My sweetie had a long week and requested a comforting pasta dish for dinner. We turned on the Italian Cooking Music station, poured some wine and I looked through the larder. The result was this crazy dish, which could easily be vegetarian or veganized, if you are so inclined.

I put on a big pot of pasta water with lots of salt. Chopped up and sautéed in olive oil some white onion, red bell peppers, kale and chicken sausage (leave the sausage out or use a veggie one if avoiding animals products). Sprinkled on some red pepper flake and sautéed until soft. Opened a can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained. Chopped up a few cloves of garlic. Added the beans and garlic to the pan, poured in about ½ cup of water and a small spoonful of Better Than Bouillon stock paste (I used chicken but veggie would work too). Put the lid on and let it all meld on lowish heat.

Dropped the elbow pasta into the boiling water (any smallish shape works here  but I chose elbows since it was one of the MANY partially used boxes we had on hand, SMH). Once cooked, I scooped the pasta from the pot into the pan with the other goodies. Purposely did not try to drain off all of the pasta water – that starchy liquid is what makes a creamy sauce! I added more of the pasta water to adjust the thickness and quantity of the sauce in this dish; that stuff is liquid gold!

Let it all simmer for a sec, tasted it and added a bit of sea salt,  then served with freshly grated parm and lots of black pepper. In the summer I would add some chopped basil from my garden to top it off.

What To Do With Condiment Dregs

My family has a thing for condiments. The more the better! We joke that some people use second fridges for beer, but we need one just for our condiments. What do you do with all those little bits left in the bottom though? 4 ideas: Sauces, salad dressings, sandwich spreads and marinades.

Dab of jam? Add some soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds, maybe a dash of chili paste – instant stir fry sauce or meat marinade.

Ketchup, horseradish and Worcestershire with a dash of siracha makes a pretty good cocktail sauce for shrimp, crab, fish and chips, fry sauce. Near empty mayo jar gets rice vinegar, celery seed, squirt of agave and salt and pepper to make coleslaw dressing. Another use for nearly empty mayo or sour cream or even Greek yogurt is to add some siracha to make a spicy sandwich spread, excellent on banh mis.

To that almost empty mustard jar, add some olive oil, diced shallots and vinegar (I’d use wine vinegar or balsamic), salt and pepper to make a basic vinaigrette. Use for dressing a salad or as a sauce for roasted vegetables or add to leftover cooked potato chunks for potato salad. One of the weirder combinations I’ve done recently was with orange marmalade. I do so love orange marmalade! I kinda did a riff on a honey mustard by adding Dijon mustard, rice vinegar, tarragon and shallot to the marmalade dregs. Mixed it right in the marmalade jar (to my husband’s bemusement), added salt and pepper and it was great! Ate it on a romaine and arugula salad with mixed sweet bell peppers that night, served over roasted asparagus the next then added the dregs of the dregs to an orzo salad for the win!

What To Do With Leftover Mashed Potatoes

You could just eat them cold out of the container like I’ve been known to do, much to my kids’ horror, or try one of these:

Potato pancakes: Super easy lil’ yummy fritter type thing. Put cold potatoes in a bowl, mix in an egg to bind, add green onions, finely diced peppers (sweet or hot, multiple colors preferably, makes things pretty), maybe a little garlic pepper. Form into small flat patties and cook them in oil in a frying pan until crisp and brown on both sides. Serve with ketchup, aioli, apple sauce, sour cream, whatever.

Soup: Quick but delicious potato soup. Sautee until soft and fragrant some shallots or diced onion in a small amount of oil or butter, maybe add some red bell peppers for color and taste. Leeks would be awesome here, but I rarely have those laying around. Add potatoes. Thin out to soup-like consistency with combo of broth and milk. Toss in other stuff if you want or have things you need to use up. Corn, green peas, asparagus – all good here. Diced ham or bacon would be tasty if you want it meaty. Correct seasonings and warm until it is as hot as you like it.

Quesadilla: I know this one sounds weird, but trust. Small bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat, flour tortilla rubbed around the pan to get the pan and the tortilla greased up. Keep pan low-medium because you don’t want to burn the tortilla while you are still filling it with awesome stuff.  Spread mashed potatoes all over tortilla and top with other goodies (meats, veggies, cheese). The potatoes act like the “glue” to seal the quesadilla together, which in my opinion, is a way better vegan option than those weird milkless cheeses. Even though the cheese is not absolutely required to glue, doesn’t mean you can’t still add it! I’m all about gilding the lily. Cook until golden and then fold over into quesadilla shape. These work for any meal, but are especially great for breakfast stuffed with scrambled eggs or tofu, sausage, salsa, whatever else sounds good.

What’s For Dinner?

Three words that can strike fear into the hearts of the bravest. In my house, usually spoken by hollow-legged teenagers with fridge door open, staring blankly inside. The aforementioned perpetually hungry growing kids have outpaced the standard 3 meals per day, lately requiring 4, 5, 6…as my culinary skills struggle to keep up with demand. Plus, leftovers aren’t big sellers around here, so I’m tasked with not only volume, but variety as well. What’s a savvy, cost and waste conscious cook to do?

Recombine. Repurpose. Create!

When I peer into my fridge, I don’t just stare blankly like my kids. I see building blocks of opportunity. Leftover mashed potatoes, check! Wilty greens, ok! The heels of the bread loaf, alright! Salad dressing dregs, yes! What delicious thing can I make from this seemingly random collection of stuff?

It helps to have go-to vehicles for said random stuff. Mine include soups, pastas, quesadillas, tortas, frittatas, stir frys, burritos. It is possible to make food magic happen even with stuff that looks like it belongs on the compost heap. Trust.

What To Do With Leftover Patatas Bravas

SOOOO many things! These lil’ babies are repurposing gold!

Fritatta: For breakfast, brunch or even dinner mix the taters with eggs and other goodies and bake. I usually sauté some veg, like onions, peppers (sweet and/or hot), maybe some greens if I’m feeling it or just need to use some up. Sausage would be yummy too. Pop all of that into a greased glass baking dish with the leftover taters. Whisk up some eggs with a dash of milk of choice (unflavored and unsweetened, duh) and salt and pepper. Pour that over the stuff in the baking dish and mix gently. Pop it into a 375 oven and cook til done (brown on top and no longer jiggly). I like to eat this at room temp, with toast at breakfast or with wine and a salad for dinner.

Quesadilla: Small bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat, flour tortilla rubbed around the pan to get the pan and the tortilla greased up. Keep pan low-medium because you don’t want to burn the tortilla while you are still filling it with awesome stuff.  Shredded or crumbled cheese of choice (I like cotija or Monterey Jack for this, but anything that melts will work). Add to one side of tortilla leftover patatas and whatever other veg sounds good or is lurking around the fridge and needs to be used. I always do onions of some sort because I love them, peppers, pickled jalapenos, salsa, leftover corn or beans, etc. When tortilla has browned and cheese has melted, fold the just cheese side over the other and eat it. Salsa, guacamole, sour cream optional.

Burrito: Patatas bravas, beans, cheese, leftover meats or veg, salsa, avocado/guacamole, sour cream (if you’re into that, I’m not) all rolled up into a tortilla.

Taco: Fill a crunchy taco shell or folded soft corn or flour tortillas with warmed up patatas bravas. Sometimes I’ll add cooked greens or peppers, but it is good with just the potatoes too. I love diced white onion and cilantro, sharp cheese and Marie Sharp’s habanero sauce on my taco tops.

Why Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion

Why Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion - Recipes Are Merely A Suggestion by kc is me

“To be nobody But yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

-e.e. cummings

That’s a very strong quote to explain why recipes are merely a suggestion, but hear me out! If cooking is a metaphor for life – why you wanna be like everybody else?? I can go to McDonald’s if I want predictable food, but where’s the fun in that?

I have a pretty cerebral day job, so cooking has become my creative outlet. I read cookbooks like some people read novels. Here’s the rub though – I dislike being constrained by rules. Guess what? I have discovered that you can still make tasty food even if you don’t exactly follow a recipe. All it requires is an interest in cooking, a willingness to improvise and a little faith in yourself.

What I have to offer you here are anti-recipe recipes that are purposely vague. And short (I’m going for post length equivalent to a Ramones song vs those miles long recipe missives on other sites). I want to encourage you to begin seeing recipes as suggestions, not rules that must be strictly followed. My intention is to inspire you to go ahead, get in the kitchen, try something new. Switch up these ingredients, use what YOU like instead; crank up the heat, use balsamic if you have no sherry vinegar, substitute basil for cilantro, whatever. I give you permission to NOT follow the recipe! Have fun and be you, in all things.